A man in his mid-40’s begins to think back on his previous relationships and heartbreak. Makoto Sato (Mirai Moriyama) is working as a graphic designer, creating animations and visuals for television. Suddenly confronted by middle-age, and realising he has become, in his words, “boring”, he begins to reminisce about his life and how he ended up here. He begins writing a memoir, working backwards through the years as we see his most recent relationship that ended badly due to his lack of commitment; a liaison with Sue (Sumire), and perhaps his most meaningful and poignant relationship with Kaori Kato (Sairi Ito).

Directed by Yoshihiro Mori, with a screenplay by Ryo Takada based on Moegara’s book of the same name, “We Couldn’t Become Adults” has a reverse chronological narrative, beginning in the present and taking us through the 2000’s to the 1990’s. While this is an interesting way to tell the story, but often hinders attempts to understand and relate to Sato’s character. In Christopher Nolan’s “Memento”, this backwards narrative served to bring us to an appreciation of the way the character’s memories worked, while here it distances us from the character (who presumably has a chronological memory of these events). A better approach may have been to mix the memories up, perhaps to better draw together repeating symbols or moments, such as the breakups, or the beginnings of relationships, places where Sato made the same mistakes or was influenced by earlier experiences. It requires a lot of the audience in asking them to remember scenes through the reverse-chronology and piece the narrative together at the end. The story running backwards also unfortunately undermines some of the emotionality of the film, as we are not shown the character’s relationships before the breakup, but vice versa. Despite this the film does feature some fantastic performances, from Mirai Moriyama and Sairi Ito in particular. Their understated romance is believable, with its own quirks, and the couple have good chemistry. As in life things move along, and Sato recalls his past as a series of memorable moments that have meaning for him. The film does a great job of depicting the quiet night streets of Tokyo, a sense of emptiness amongst this mass of humanity.

“We Couldn’t Become Adults” is a downbeat, often depressing film, especially for those who have been through failed relationships or are nearing middle-age. The character of Sato is sympathetic in his belief that he has not achieved anything, that his life has led him nowhere, his melancholy further exacerbated by an inability to commit to relationships following past heartbreak with Kaori. The film’s reverse narrative symbolises this human characteristic of constantly looking backwards, searching for meaning in the past, that can often hinder progress. Sato is stuck in the past, but also (as the adage goes) doomed to repeat it. His relationships fail because he is always judging them against an idealised vision of the past. So while the film takes us back from his less-than-perfect present situation, to what he believes was the best part of his life, we also realise that his current depression and loneliness is due perhaps to a misremembering of this same past, and inability to recognize the positives that he has missed along the way. The film is a nuanced character study of a man repeatedly failing to deal with heartbreak, and trapped in his own memories of happier times. Excellent performances and cinematography certainly make it worth a watch, but at times it can be a difficult experience to witness this man’s yearning for a joy that will remain permanently out of reach.

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